Northern Home & Cottage: Janet Marvel laughs when she recalls what she told architect Ray Kendra before he began designing a home for her and her husband, Al Fowerbaugh, on their Crystal Lake lot. “I told him, ‘My expectations are reasonably low, I just don’t want bats,’” Janet says. She was joking of course, but bats were legitimately on her mind because the tear-down the couple replaced was a dank, dated cement block structure that, despite her parents’ years of effort, was notorious for its bats—and its bees.
Critter-proofing aside, fine-tuning a design for the couple—both attorneys from Chicago—proved initially to be an exercise in fusing polar-opposite concepts. “I was thinking of something more traditional, not quite a log cabin, but something in that genre,” Al says. “Janet was thinking more modern.”
Or as Janet puts it: “Al is all oxblood and red leather. I’m more modern.”
With both Janet’s and Al’s personalities in mind, Ray presented the couple a blueprint for a gracious, shingled, single-gable, relaxed but traditional cottage. Lovely, to be sure, but the couple said no thanks and sent Ray back to the drawing board. Interpreting it as marching orders to develop an out-of-the-box solution, Ray devised just that, returning with a similar gable design, but one wearing a completely new look that featured the modern/industrial sensibility of corrugated galvanized steel siding for Janet, and for Al’s rustic desires, an exterior wainscot fabricated from horizontal cedar boards separated by metal strips. Janet and Al were delighted: “Ray did a nice job of melding two idioms,” Al says. “The cedar with the metal strip was a real stroke of genius—a riff on log cabin chinking.”
With the exterior settled, Ray moved on to an interior design that needed to be, as Janet describes it, an accordion: small enough to feel cozy when just she and Al are there, large enough to accommodate visiting family and friends. No problem, Ray assured them, executing a blueprint for an efficient galley kitchen that opens into a handsome great room with a maple floor and a stacked-stone high-efficiency fireplace. A set of barn doors open onto a cozy media room, flanked on one side by Janet’s sewing room and Al’s office. Also on the main floor: a master bedroom with a full view of Northern Michigan's Crystal Lake. Upstairs, three bedrooms became so much more when Ray found space in two of them to carve out sleeping lofts.
The planning was going swimmingly, in fact, until Ray shared his vision for the foyer powder room. It would be placed just below the upstairs landing and topped with a translucent plastic ceiling. The idea being, explained Ray, that when the light was on in the evening the loo would glow like a moonstone. Ray had full confidence that the plastic panel would provide plenty of privacy from that landing view down. But the couple? Not so much. “We were skeptical,” says Janet. “And my family was even more so. They were all weighing in and my niece said, ‘Fine but I’m not going to use it.’”
In the end the couple trusted their architect—and being delighted that they did. The powder room is plenty private, and its evening glow harmonizes with hanging clear glass pendants in the foyer, adjoining kitchen and staircase landing.
Powder room and all, Janet and Al say they find themselves frequently basking in Ray’s artistry and ingenuity. Especially on evenings when they settle into their screened-in porch with its outdoor stacked-stoned fireplace that perfectly mirrors its indoor twin in the great room just on the other side of the exterior wall. Clever, subtle, perfect—it’s all a part of the architect’s illuminating geometry of design.